My Variant on Eight Ball Pool

  Thanks to my girlfriend's nephew and son, I've been stuck with this pool table in my living room for some time now.  Yes, that would be great if I were an avid pool player, but really, I'm just an occasional, or "social" pool player.  Nonetheless, since it's so convenient, I've been playing more pool lately, and thinking about it. And, as I am wont to do, researching it.

  Pool is part of a wide variety of cue sports, and includes billiards, snooker, and carom.  Hey, I  used to have a carrom game when I was a kid, although I probably didn't play it according to the rules.

The cheap, Americanized version with the plastic rings that also lets you play chess, checkers, and backgammon on it.
More importantly, there are several different games and rules that can be played with a standard pool table and set (16 balls, 15 colored balls numbered 1 through 15 and a cue ball). The most popular version is Eight-Ball, which you've probably played yourself many times.  One player has to knock in the solids (balls 1 - 7) and the other player has to knock in the stripes (balls 9 - 14), and only once you have dropped all your balls can you go for the 8 ball.

One variant I've played since I was a kid, especially when playing by myself, is simply that you have to knock all the balls in in numerical order.  You have to drop ball 1 before you can go for ball 2, and so forth, until you drop ball 15 in last.  In this game the 8 ball is nothing special, just another ball to knock in after the 7 and before the 9.  I mistakenly called it Nine Ball, but apparently, that's a rather different game than what I played.

Pictured: A Nine-Ball rack

Much more recently, I came up with a simple variant on Eight-Ball that I rather like, based on the colors of the balls. At first, you can knock in any ball you want to, except for the 8-ball, but when you knock in one ball, you have to go after the other ball of the same color before you're free to shoot at any other balls.  So, for example, if you knock in the 10 ball, which is blue, you have to go after the blue 2 ball before you're free to shoot any other balls.

Furthermore, if, while going for the 2 ball, you accidentally knock in the green 6 ball, you now have to shoot for the blue 2 and the green 14 ball before you're free to shoot at any other balls.  Any other player can shoot your balls in for you with no penalty, but then, why would they want to help you?  ;-)  Once all the other balls are in, then the players can shoot for the 8-ball.

  This variant has several interesting features.  For one thing, it's just as easy for 3 players to play as it is for 2 or 4 players, as there's no need for teams.  It also creates a tremendous but temporary challenge as you are restricted to getting both balls of the same color before being free to shoot at any other ball. This variant also makes a good handicap game for widely mismatched players, as a good player could knock in most of the colored pairs, but still lose if the weak player ends up knocking in the 8-ball at the end. Unless you want to keep track of how many colored pairs each player knocks in.  Then, of course, the stronger player has the advantage.

Obviously, these rules aren't set in stone, so feel free to modify them as you see fit.  But I think it's a nice variation, especially if you're just playing for fun.

Upon checking, I found one variant that is somewhat similar to mine, although not exactly the same:  Cribbage Pool. In Cribbage, instead of knocking in pairs of the same color, you have to knock in pairs that add up to 15.  For example, if you knock in the 6 ball, you next have to knock in the 9 ball.  There are some other differences, as well, but it is at least similar to my variant. 

I gave it a try, and I'd say Cribbage is much more difficult than my variant.  With my variant, if you don't drop the matching colored ball, then you just keep trying (when it's your turn again) until you do.  With Cribbage, if  you don't make the matching ball, then the first ball that you dropped gets put back on the table.  If you're not very good at pool, a Cribbage game can last a long time.

So go play some pool!  And let me know if you like my variation on Eight-Ball in the comments.  Oh, and Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and all that stuff...


Comic Book Plus --A lasting stack of comics!

Okay, I discovered this great site some time ago, but for some reason, hesitated to blog about it.  I guess I hate to gush over something, especially if I'm not getting paid anything for it, but it's really hard for me to be critical of this site.  Comic Book Plus is a great site with tons of public domain comic material in their archive.   Old comic books, comic strips, fanzines, pulp magazines, and a few other odd things are available at their site, free to read online or download.  They currently have almost 18,000 books, and are adding more every day.

A lot of the material is the more obscure stuff that you've probably never heard of, but you'll also find some suprisingly well-known characters in the archive, due to carelessness or negligence or who knows what on the part of certain comic book companies.  The original Captain Marvel, Plastic Man, The Spirit, Blackhawk, The Phantom Lady, and more.

You'll also find some great early work by many of comics' great artists, although unless you know what you're looking for, you'll merely stumble across them.  For example, Wally Wood doing the artwork for an adaptation of one of the Fu Manchu novels, in the early '50s.

And naturally, there's much to explore for the historical buffs.  See the earliest comics transition from illustrated pulps to superhero fare.  Check out the wider variety of genre material from the 1950's, when superheroes were a dying fad.  Horror, romance, westerns, funny animals and humor, science fiction, crime fiction, and even some decent detective fiction.

I've long been a fan of mysteries and detective fiction, since my childhood days of reading Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, and it's always bothered me how little detective fiction there's been in comics, at least since the 1970's, when I started reading comics.  But there were more mysteries and detective fiction in the older comics.  Not only were there short-lived comic book series of Charlie Chan, The Saint, and Sherlock Holmes, but there were others that were conceived as comic book characters, and not merely adaptations from prose, such as Ken Shannon, Private Detective.

Besides the large archive of a wide variety of material, the site itself has some nifty features, too.  If you create an account, the site will track what you read for you, and let you create bookmarks and such.  There's a forum for discussions, of course, and as I already mentioned, you can read the comics online if you want, without having to download and decompress them to your hard drive.  Save the hard drive space for just your favorites.

There's probably more that I've forgotten to mention, but why don't you go check it out for yourself?  You're bound to find something you'll like, whatever your tastes.


A Libertarian View on Religion

  Recently, a religious person asked me if I was happy about being an atheist.  I wasn't expecting such a question, and mumbled something along the lines of "I guess so".  But upon a moment's reflection, I realized that there's a problem not just with the answer, but with the question.  Why should there be any significant emotional content in being an atheist?

Assuming that one is not simply being contradictory or rebellious for its own sake, atheism is merely a logical conclusion based upon available evidence (or lack of evidence).  So why should I be particularly happy about being atheist anymore than I should be happy about the sun rising every morning, or that letting go of an object above ground level causes it to fall to the ground?  Atheism is just a rational conclusion, and it is probably best not to invest too much emotion into it.  There's no particular point in being smugly confident about being an atheist for example, or to be overly pessimistic about a lack of an afterlife.  If you're too emotional about atheism, then you're probably believing in it for the wrong reasons, and should re-think why you are an atheist.

In a related point, there is the question of how libertarians "ought" to treat religion.  From a strictly technical standpoint, libertarians should be probably be neutral about religion, as long as religion is not an excuse to initiate force or fraud against other people.  In short, libertarianism is *merely* a political philosophy, and has little or nothing to say about anything that is not political.  A person should thus be free to believe in any nonsense they want to believe in, as long as they are not aggressing against other people.

But if there is no God and no afterlife, aren't religious people perpetuating a fraud against other people?  Not necessarily.  While there are no doubt some people who are hypocrites or outright liars, and merely use religion as a means of controlling and manipulating other people, many religious people truly believe in the tenets of their religion, and thus cannot be said to be initiating fraud against others.  You can't be engaging in fraud if you believe it yourself.

Nonetheless, even though libertarianism doesn't specifically preclude religious beliefs, there may still be a problem with having religious convictions.  Libertarianism is essentially just a basic principle, the non-aggression principle, followed through to its logical implications and conclusions.  Religious convictions are essentially beliefs held for decidedly non-logical reasons.  Thus, while being an atheist doesn't require emotional content, being religious certainly does require an emotional investment on the part of the religious person, and a decided lack of reason and logic to continue to hold religious beliefs.

The mind tends to work hard to justify emotional beliefs, resulting in such things as alleged logic of Intelligent Design, and its supposed superiority over evolutionary theory. And if you can believe in one impossible thing, then why not two, or even, like Alice in Wonderland, six impossible things before breakfast? 

The libertarian who holds illogical religious beliefs is thus at greater risk for distorting libertarian views to justify an illogical implication or conclusion.  For example, libertarians who believe in immigration restrictions.  Admittedly, religious belief is not the only illogical view that puts one at risk for distorting libertarianism.  People who believe in the supernatural, UFO's, or conspiracy theories are also exhibiting illogical or irrational tendencies. 

Religious people are still in the great majority of the mainstream, however, and religion still strongly influences our society.  If you think about it, aren't devout Christians as much a threat, if not a greater threat, to our Western intellectual values and the Classical Liberal tradtion than are believers of other religions, like Muslims?  Christians are in a much better position to distort and undermine the culture of science and free inquiry than any Muslim could be. Perhaps Christian Conservatives and liberal hippies are both on the wrong side of the Culture War.


Imagination, Art & Entertainment, and Interactivity

There's always a certain degree of interactivity between the viewer or consumer of art and entertainment and the work.  I'm not going to try to define art, nor will I try to make a sharp distinction between art and entertainment.  Instead, I will suggest that such distinctions are best made by the viewer of the work.

Whether we're talking about a novel, a movie, a comic book, a song, or even a painting or sculpture, in all cases, the creator's work is meaningless until the viewer or consumer of the work brings their own ideas and imagination to bear upon the work.  Of course, the work has meaning to the creator, but the creator is also a view/consumer of his own work, so the creator actually has a dual role, both in creating the work, and in attributing his own meaning or interpretation to the work. And this meaning or interpretation may be quite different from how others view his work.

Art is largely subjective, because the viewer brings their own meaning or interpretation to the works that they view.  Oh, sure, there are objective aspects of art that can be defined and measures, but these only have to do with the "production quality" of the work, which can be affected by the training and experience of the creator, as well as by technology.  An obvious example of technology is how film quality has changed since its inception, with improved filming cameras and techniques, and now computer processing, but even writers may have been subtly affected by the development of the typewriter, and later the word processor and personal computer in how they go about writing novels and stories.

Nonetheless, the meaning and interpretation of a work is largely independent of the technology used to create the work, and rests solely with each individual viewer of the work, and thus is subjective.  This goes a long ways towards explaining differences in artistic tastes, not only from person to person, but between different cultures, separated by distance or time. A person growing up in the United States will be familiar with various pop music icons like Elvis or the Beatles, while a person growing up in India may be more familiar with their own native ragas than with Elvis.

But these environmental and cultural influences are only tendencies towards certain influences and styles--people are still individuals capable of choice and change.  If your parents listened to country music while you were growing up, you may have rebelled as a teen and listened to rock, instead.  But even if you did, you might still find that as an adult you like country music.  Or you may have encountered jazz or classical as you got older and decided that you liked those styles of music instead of, or in addition to, country and rock. In any case, it's a sure bet that you wouldn't like Indian ragas if they were unavailable to you and you had never heard them. 

One thing I find interesting is how variable this attribution of meaning can be even within the same person.  If you're tired or ill, you may find it more difficult to enjoy even a favorite novel, movie, or song than if you were well-rested and focusing on the work.  Or you may find new meaning upon repeated viewings/readings/listenings of the work.  Having supplemental or background material about the work and creator may also influence how you view the work.  That's one of the reasons I like the special features that are often included with dvds.  I like seeing things like how the movie was made, or what the producer/director or principal actors thought about the movie they made. 

There also seems to be a degree of interactivity that can be brought to bear upon the work.  What was the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky really trying to show the reader in The Brothers Karamazov? What was its theme?  When Randy Newman wrote the song "Short People", was he really trying to offend short people, or was he trying to highlight the bigotry of not liking short people?  In the science fiction movie "Total Recall" (either version, they're quite similar in regards to the plot), is the main character Douglas Quaid really a deep-cover secret agent, or is his espionage adventure just an implanted dream or memory?  These are the types of questions each individual has to think about and decide for themselves.

Even the medium can affect the degree of interactivity.  When reading a prose story, the author can describe characters and settings, but it still requires the reader to imagine what things look like, and how certain things described in the story actually work.  With film, actors, props, and settings are all visible to the viewer, so less imagination is necessary.  Still, a good movie like "The Matrix", "Inception", or the previously mentioned "Total Recall" can make the viewer question if what he is seeing is "real" or not.

This idea of subjective interactivity can also be brought to bear upon non-fiction, or even upon reality itself.  When reading an account of a scientific event, for example, you have to know enough science and the terms they use to understand what the article or account is telling you. When watching or reading a news story, you have to understand if they are reporting facts for you to interpret, or if they are merely giving you a second-hand account or interpretation of the events.  Is that National Enquirer headline really reporting the fact that Elvis is alive and living incognito in North Dakota, or are they merely reporting that someone else is saying that Elvis is alive, without sufficient evidence of their assertion?  Is history really a set of facts written down?  Or is it a set of facts that the historian deemed as important, and thus ignoring the rest of the available facts?  Or is it even just the historian's interpretation of a set of facts, and not the facts themselves?  Again, just like fiction, the individual has to bring their own understanding and interpretation to bear upon what is presented to them.

And isn't that how reality itself works?  Your senses perceive raw data, such as the light that reaches your eyes, and your mind interprets that data to tell you what you've seen. Thus, reality itself may indeed be quite objective, but our perception of reality is subject to how we interpret the data of reality, the meaning that we individuals ascribe to our circumstances and situations.

What is the difference between fiction and nonfiction, then?  Fiction could be said to be an attempt to create meaning by describing a set of facts or events, while nonfiction attempts to find meaning by discovering and interpreting a set of facts or events.

And now I believe I've strayed far from my original starting point.  I suppose I should be providing my grand conclusion or thesis at this point, but I don't really have one.  I've presented my interpretation of various facts, tried to see if there's a connection or relationship between them, and I now leave it up to you to come up with the conclusion to be derived from it. 


A change of perspective in politics

  Ever since I discovered the simplicity of the libertarian non-aggression principle, I've been forced to reconsider everything political in terms of the principle.   However, getting other people to see things from my perspective, however simple it seems to me, has been a difficult task. I can't pretend that things are really the way they seemed to be before discovering libertarianism, and I don't know if I should be more angry at the politicians and power-mongers who continue to foster the illusions for their own purposes and goals, or the large majority of mainstream people who buy into the illusions, or at least, pretend to go along with the illusions.

Part of the reason that governments have so much power over ordinary people is the perceived legitimacy they possess, given to them by ordinary people.  This legitimacy will last as long as most people continue to believe that governments have some valid, moral authority to initiate force and fraud against people, and no longer than that.

Without that perceived legitimacy, governments and their agents would be recognized as the criminals that they really are. At best, they're terrorists who believe in some just or unjust cause.  At worst, they're just thieves, murderers, con men, and mobsters on a larger scale than most thieves, murderers, con men, and mobsters.

What?  You don't think this?  You think government is a force for good?  Well, consider this:

Who banned DDT so that we have to deal with the return of blood-sucking bedbugs?
Who removed phosphates from laundry detergent, making it harder to keep clothes clean?
Who forced television broadcasters to stop using analog transmissions and send digital broadcast signals instead, forcing consumers to get a digital converter or a newer, digital television?
Who forced manufacturers to stop making high-flow showerheads and high-capacity flush toilets, creating less satisfaction and more plumbing problems for consumers? 
Who tried to ban incandescent light bulbs and force everyone to convert to compact flourescent light bulbs, and thus reduce lighting quality and increase the risk of mercury poisoning?
Who restricted the producers of the flu vaccine (which has to be created anew every year to keep up with the continual modification of the flu virus), and thus created shortages of the vaccine and increased the chances of people dying from the flu?

Not enough for you?  There's plenty more:

Who creates almost all monopolies, especially the monopolies for your utility services: water/sewage, electricity, natural gas, garbage services, and cable television services?
Who controls the money supply, and ensures that we have a continual monetary inflation every year?
Who goes to war, with all the ensuing death and destruction that wars cause?

Or consider these simple facts:

Who makes you pay to drive a vehicle (driver's license)
Who makes you pay to go to work and earn a living (income taxes)?
Who makes you pay to buy goods and services (sales taxes)?
Who makes you pay to own land and property (property taxes)?
Who decides how you are allowed to use your property?

The answer to the above questions, and many other, similar questions should be obvious, and if that isn't enough to make you mad and wonder why so many people put up with it, then I'm not sure that I understand you or how you think.

The evils of government are simple and obvious, no conspiracy thinking is necessary, and it is high time that ordinary people stopped granting legitimacy to the government. We should stop pretending that governments are basically good, and started recognizing that governments create more problems than they solve.  Government isn't even a "necessary evil", just an evil.

Once this happens, then the human race will be ready to progress to the next major step in our evolution and destiny. Or, to put it in a less grandiose way, more people will have more choices and opportunities for controlling their own lives and happiness.

Amazing Grace Syndrome

I enjoy listening to music, and, as an amateur musician, playing and writing music.  In my lifetime, there's no telling how many songs I've listened to, or how many times I've listened to them.  It can sometimes be difficult for a songwriter to write a song that doesn't sound too much like another, already existing song.  But there's another problem, even for the casual listener, in just remembering how a song or tune goes, even if you're just thinking about it or humming it. 

A really distinctive tune or melody can be so powerful that it obliterates any other tune or melody that you're trying to play or remember.  Amazing Grace is one such song.  It has such a strong, simple melody that anything that sounds anything like it can just be obliterated out of your mind and taken over by its melody, instead.  You can start humming the melody of another song, and it quickly turns into Amazing Grace.  And then you can't get Amazing Grace out of your head.

I call this Amazing Grace Syndrome.  Heh.